WASHINGTON – President Obama on Friday urged the Senate to ratify a $1.1 trillion, House-passed spending bill that has roiled his Democratic Party, judging it an imperfect measure that stems from « the divided government that the American people voted for. »
One day after House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi publicly chastised him for supporting the bill, the president said there were provisions « I really do not like. » At the same time, he said there were other portions that « fund health insurance, early childhood education, the fight against climate change, and expand manufacturing hubs to grow jobs. »
He offered his assessment as Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid also announced support for the legislation, further underscoring the split inside the party. The Democrats will lose control of the Senate in January because of heavy losses in midterm elections last month and will go deeper into a House minority than at any time since 1928.
With lawmakers eager to wrap up work for the year, the huge spending measure was on track to clear Congress early next week. To give the Senate time to complete action, Obama signed a 48-hour law overnight to keep the government funded through Saturday and prevent a shutdown that both parties have pledged to avoid. In case even more leeway was needed, the House passed a second stopgap bill that will run out at midnight Wednesday.
Nor was there much if any controversy over the spending levels in the spending measure, which would provide funding to keep nearly the entire government operating through the Sept. 30 end of the current budget year.
The sole exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only until Feb. 27. Republicans intend to try then to force the president to roll back a new immigration policy that removes the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
« That battle begins in just four weeks when we get the reinforcements of a Republican Senate in January, » Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House Republican whip, said Thursday night after the legislation cleared the House.
An unrelated portion of the bill would change the rules for severely distressed multiemployer pension funds, opening the way to possible cuts in benefits for retirees.
But much of the controversy surrounding the bill concerned a variety of provisions relating to financial regulation, the environment, campaign financing rules, and more.
Pelosi and other Democrats objected most vociferously to a pair of them. One would raise the amount of money that wealthy donors may contribute to political parties for national conventions, election recounts, and headquarters buildings.
Generating far more unhappiness among Democrats was a section that would eliminate a new regulation that was imposed on the nation’s banks in the aftermath of the 2008 near-meltdown of the economy.
The prospect of undoing that regulation inflamed liberals, including some mentioned as potential presidential candidates in 2016.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), a critic of big banks whose supporters are urging her to run for the White House, criticized the proposal for the third day in a row on the Senate floor. She said that five years after passing new curbs, « Congress is on the verge of ramming through a provision that would do nothing for the middle class, do nothing for community banks, do nothing but raise the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out the biggest banks again. »
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), another potential presidential contender, said he would oppose the bill. Referring to the banking regulation, among other provisions, he said, « Anyone who thinks that Congress regulates Wall Street has got it backwards. »
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, viewed as the likely Democratic presidential nominee if she runs, declined through a spokesman to take a position on the overall legislation.
But another potential candidate, outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, tweeted that Congress should not be repealing financial industry regulations « and letting Wall Street play with taxpayer money. »
Republicans pointed out that 70 rank-and-file House Democrats had supported an identical provision in a vote on a stand-alone bill in October of last year.
GOP and Democratic officials also said Pelosi’s office and the White House had been informed last week that the bank-related provision would be included in the legislation, an assertion that contradicts her statement that she didn’t know until shortly before it was made public.
In further evidence of Democratic infighting, Appropriations Committee Democrats in the Senate circulated a memo that noted not only the 2013 vote, but also approval for the same provision earlier this year in the House Appropriations Committee. « So the notion that this was a surprise to anyone in Congress or at the White House is a stretch, » it said.
Pelosi, like Scalise, was already pointing ahead to legislative battles ahead in 2015.
After the events surrounding the House vote, she wrote members of her rank and file, « We strengthened our position to achieve commonsense solutions » in the new Congress that convenes in January. « We hope to do so in a bipartisan way, but stand ready to sustain the president’s veto when necessary. »
In his remarks to reporters at the White House, Obama didn’t mention vetoes. He said that if he’d been able to write the spending measure, « I suspect it’d be slightly different.
« That is not the circumstance we find ourselves in, and I think what the American people very much are looking for is some practical governance and the willingness to compromise. »